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How handholding is the superpower you didn’t know you had

A child's hand held by an adult's hand, both brown-skinned and wearing black

What touch does to help us feel connected and safe

Can you think back to a time when you had to go through something challenging, so you asked a friend or supportive family member to be there with you? Maybe it was something stressful like a medical appointment or a test result. Maybe it was really difficult, like the funeral of someone close to you.

Perhaps that person held your hand while it was happening, or sat right next to you. It probably felt easier having them there to provide emotional support or to advocate for you.

If you’re curious how having someone’s supportive presence changes how we handle difficulty — and what it does for us on a body level — I have a fascinating 13-minute TED talk for you to check out.

In it, psychologist James Coan explains how the presence of another (especially a loved one) calms our nervous system and makes things feel easier and safer for us.

Click here for the talk: Why we hold hands: Dr. James Coan at TEDxCharlottesville 2013

White man with ponytail (Dr Coan) in front of blue TEDtalk background

I love this TED talk because it really illustrates the almost magical effects of soothing touch on our brains and our wellbeing. It’s something I see all the time when working with in-person clients: by the end of a session they’ve visibly shifted into a state that’s slower, more embodied, and more present. (For you nervous system nerds, that’s a regulated Ventral Vagal state ;).

Not only that, Dr. Coan shows how connection is what we are naturally wired for. He says something at the end that is actually quite moving.

➜ What part of the talk really spoke to you, or gave you an a-ha moment?

Leave a comment or message me, I’d love to know.

With love,
~Alison

What to do when the world scares you

Forget self-care — it’s not working!

Chronic pain and self-care

Alex (not her real name) came to see me feeling utterly defeated by unexplained chronic pain that she’d been having for several years. During our check-in, on the verge of tears, she gave a big sigh and said, “I’m doing all the ‘right’ things — I do yoga, I meditate, I eat healthy food. So why am I still in so much pain all the time?! I don’t know what else I can do!”

My heart went out to her.

Despite all her healthy habits, it felt to her like there was nothing left to try, and that she’d be stuck with the pain forever. What good was all this self-care when the pain still kept coming back?

But, as I told Alex, I know it’s really disheartening, but don’t give up — every bit counts!

Doing those things that keep your body and soul happy is still vital for your overall happiness and health, and without them your pain might be quite a bit worse. Self-care goes a long way to powering your healing process.

So why are you still in pain?

With issues like migraines and chronic pain or chronic fatigue, often the triggers are below our conscious control. Your nervous system — the part of you that regulates pain — has gone out of balance and gets easily triggered into pain mode where it cycles without being able to release. The good news? You can train your nervous system to balance itself again. You have more power to heal than you think.

One of effective way to manage chronic pain is also really simple.

Are you in pain right now? Try this tiny bit of self-care with a difference:

   Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the ground, and your back supported.

   Eyes closed, take a few slow breaths. Notice any body tension and allowing your exhale to carry it down your legs and out your feet.

   Now notice a part of your body that is in pain, and breathe into it. Place a hand there, if you like. (If your pain is hard to pinpoint to one area, just pick a place in your body.)

Here’s the important part:

Really pay attention to all the sensations there — perhaps texture, hardness, temperature, size and shape — and notice how they shift. Continue breathing normally and observing for one minute.

   End by taking a long breath, exhaling down your legs and into the ground.

How does that area feel right now? How is your overall pain level?

Try to do this throughout the day whenever you notice your pain, or while you’re on a break. It’s a great thing to do, lying in bed, to ease you into sleep.

How is this different from other kinds of self-care?

What you just did there was to begin calming your nervous system through connecting to your body. It’s that simple. (Well, the physiology of it is actually complex and amazing, but the tools are simple!) By regularly connecting in to your body and training your nervous system to calm itself, you’ve got effective tools for managing your chronic pain.

Let’s hear from you:

Do share your observations from doing the exercise.

What do you do for self-care? How do you feel when your symptoms aren’t clearing up even when you’ve been taking care of yourself? Do you notice a difference when you skip your practice or your self-nourishing activities? What inspires you to keep going?

Share your thoughts below!

~Alison

(CC image courtesy of r. nial bradshaw on Flickr)